by the Chairman of the Military Committee Admiral Gianpaolo di Paola at the inauguration of the monument to fallen NATO servicemen and -women
Secretary General, Ministers, Excellences, Ladies & Gentlemen
We often talk about the sacrifices made by our men and women in times of crisis and war. We then use the term “Ultimate Sacrifice” frequently and, dare I say it, a little too easily at times.
Those who operate in harms way and see comrades die alongside them are perhaps the only ones who truly know the meaning of the selfless acts of bravery and sacrifice made on operations.
The rest of us can only try to understand and sympathise with those who have lost a colleague or a loved one.
We need to remember when we work here, away from the front line, that our servicemen and women accept the tasks we give them willingly. Captain Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier to lose her life in Afghanistan, wrote to her parents a week before she died and said “it seems to me that we have such a burden of responsibility to make the world a better place for those who are born into far worse circumstances”.
They trust us to make the right choices on their behalf, so when we deliberate, our duty must always be to keep alive that direct link between our work here, the men and women on the front line, and the risks they take on our behalf.
So, every time we walk past this monument, let us think of two things. Firstly, of the brave men and women who have now taken their place in history, and secondly, that we are the first step on the path to the front line. We have to recognise the demands we place on our servicemen and women who have always been, and will always be, responsible for carrying that burden into the battlefield.
I will end with some words from the final letter of a British soldier, Guardsman Neil Downes, aged 20, which was delivered to his parents after he was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. He said:
“Please do not be mad at what has happened. I did what I had to do and serving the Army was it. Again, don't be sad. Celebrate my life because I love you and I will see you all again.”
So we say to all the Neils: “We are not sad, we are proud of you.”